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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Bureaucracy at Its Worst

November 29, 1998

Surely the recent troubles afflicting two of the San Fernando Valley's three community colleges cannot be sheer coincidence. Within just a few days, the president of Mission College admitted losing $4.7 million in state money, the president of Pierce College got sacked and a steering committee reviewing plans for the Pierce farm rejected all five development proposals submitted for the land. The unifying thread tying these incidents together: an inept Los Angeles Community College District bureaucracy that seems to value self-perpetuation over student achievement or campus growth.

Mission College President William E. Norlund admitted earlier this month that the school will not be able to use $4.7-million allocated by the state for campus expansion because he and other administrators did not work with the community to develop a spending plan. The money could have been used to build four new classroom buildings as well as add 1,000 parking spaces to the crowded and rapidly growing campus. Originally, college planners had hoped to use land on El Cariso Golf Course. But their plan to build another golf course on nearby land drew criticism. By that time, it was too late to develop a plan to meet a Dec. 31 funding deadline. It was an inexcusable gaffe.

But it was no worse than the community college district's abrupt firing of Pierce President Bing Inocencio. Inocencio's three-year contract was not renewed because board members did not believe the president worked well with the community or followed through on promises made when he was hired in 1996. That may be true, but Inocencio inherited a campus in despair. His proposals to develop the school's farm were unpopular but necessary. And it is doubtful that any amount of community hand-holding would have made much difference. What is clear, though, is that Inocencio makes a convenient scapegoat for Pierce's lagging enrollment and topsy-turvy finances.

And Pierce's financial problems will no doubt worsen with last week's rejection of five proposals to develop part of the campus farm. Developers submitting proposals blasted the panel's expectations as unrealistic. That apparent naivete bolsters arguments from neighbors who fear Pierce administrators will squander the land. There must be someone in the district's vast bureaucracy who understands real estate transactions well enough to know what to expect in a bidding process.

The three failures share a theme. With Norlund, district officials should have been working to identify community concerns and address them before it was too late. The same is true for Inocencio. None of the complaints cited by the board is new. And who was guiding the development process on the Pierce farm? Where are those elected to oversee one of the most important educational systems in Southern California? Just as they are unwilling to let their campus presidents truly take charge, board members seem unwilling to stand behind them.

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